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this quarrel of God and his anointed; and plagues that people, which made themselves unworthy to be the Lord's inheritance.
And what becomes of Joash? He is left in great diseases, when his own servants conspired against him, for the blood of the sons of Jehoiada, and slew him on his bed, and he died; and they buried him not in the sepulchre of the kings.
Dying Zechariah had said, in the bitterness of his departing soul, The Lord look upon it, and require it. I confess, I would rather to have heard him say, "The Lord pass it over, and remit it;" so said Stephen: such difference there is, between a martyr of the Law, and of the Gospel: although I will hope the zeal of justice, not the uncharitable heat of revenge, drew forth this word.
God hears it, and now gives an account of his notice. Thus doth the Lord require the blood of Jehoiada's son, even by the like unthankful hand of the obliged servants of Joash. He, that was guilty of abominable idolatry, yet, as if God meant to wave that challenge, is called to reckoning, for his cruel unthankfulness to Jehoiada. This crime shall make him odious alive, and shall abandon him dead from the sepulchre of his fathers; as if this last royalty were too good for him, who had forgotten the law of humanity.
Some vices are such, as nature smiles upon, though frowned at by divine justice: others are such, as even nature itself abhors; such is this of ingratitude, which therefore carries so much more detestation from God, as it is more odious even to them that have blotted out the image of God.
CONTEMPLATION V.-JOASH, WITH ELISHA
2 KINGS XIII.
THE two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, however divided both in government and affection, yet loved to interchange the names of their kings.
Even Israel also had their Joash, no better than that of Judah. He was not more the father of a later Jeroboam, than, in respect of misworship, he was the son of the first Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin. Those calves of Dan and Bethel, out of a politic misdevotion, besotted all the succession of the ten usurped tribes: yet even this idolatrous king of Israel comes down to visit the sick bed of Elisha, and weeps upon his face.
That holy prophet was never any flatterer of princes; neither spared he invectives against their most plausible sins: yet king Joash, that was beaten by his reproofs, washes that face with
the tears of love and sorrow, which had often frowned upon wickedness.
How much difference there was, betwixt the Joash of Israel, and the Joash of Judah! That of Judah, having been preserved and nurtured by Jehoiada the priest, after all professions of dearness shuts up in the unkind murder of his son; and that merely for the just reproof of his own idolatry: this of Israel, having been estranged from the prophet Elisha, and sharply rebuked for the like offence, makes love to his dying reprover, and bedews his pale face with his tears. Both were bad enough; but this of Israel was, however vicious, yet good-natured: that of Judah, added to his wickedness, an ill disposition, a dogged humour. There are varieties even of evil men: some are worse at the root, others at the branch; some more civilly harmless, others fouler in morality. According to the exercise of the restraining grace, natural men do either rise or fall in their ill.
The longest day must have his evening. Good Elisha, that had lived some ninety years, a wonder of prophets, and had outworn many successions in the thrones of Israel and Judah, is now cast upon the bed of his sickness, yea, of his death. That very age might seem a disease; which yet is seconded with a languishing distemper. It is not in the power of any holiness, to privilege us from infirmity of body, from final dissolution. He, that stretched himself upon his bed, over the dead carcass of the Shunamite's son, and revived it, must now stretch out his own limbs upon his sick bed, and die. He saw his master Elijah rapt up suddenly from the earth, and fetched by a fiery chariot from this vale of mortality; himself must leisurely wait for his last pangs, in a lingering passage to the same glory.
There is not one way appointed to us, by the Divine Providence, unto one common blessedness. One hath more pain; another hath more speed: violence snatcheth away one; another, by an insensible pace, draws every day nearer to his term. The wisdom, and goodness, of God magnifies itself in both. Happy is he, that, after due preparation, is passed through the gates of death, ere he be aware. Happy is he, that, by the holy use of long sickness, is taught to see the gates of death afar off, and is addressed for a resolute passage: the one dies like Elijah; the other, like Elisha; both, blessedly.
The time was, when a great king sent to Elisha, to know if he should recover: now, the king of Israel, as knowing that Elisha shall not recover (so had his consumption spent him), comes to visit the dying prophet; and, when his tears would give him leave, breaks forth into a passionate exclamation, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!
Yet the calves of Dan and Bethel have left some goodness in Joash. As the best man hath something in him worthy of re
proof, so the faultiest hath something commendable. Had not the Spirit of God himself told us, that Joash did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, we had admired this piety, this reverent respect to the prophet. The holiest man could not have said more. It is possible for the clients of a false worship, to honour, out of another regard, the professors of truth. From the hand of Elisha, had Jehu, the grandfather of Joash, received his unction to the kingdom: this favour might not be forgotten.
Visitation of the sick is a duty required, both by the law of humanity and of religion: bodily infirmity is sad and comfortless; and therefore needs the presence and counsel of friends, to relieve it: although, when we draw the curtains of those that are eminently gracious, we do rather fetch, with Joash, than bring a blessing.
How sensible should we be of the loss of holy men, when a Joash spends his tears upon Elisha! If we be more affected, with the foregoing of a natural friend or kinsman, than of a noted and useful prophet, it argues more love to ourselves, than to the Church of God, than to God himself.
What use there was of chariots and horsemen in those wars of the ancient, all histories can tell us all the strength of the battle stood in these: there could be neither defence nor offence, but by them. Such was Elisha unto Israel. The greatest safeguard to any nation is the sanctity, and faithfulness, of their prophets; without which, the Church and state lies open to utter desolation.
The same words, that Elisha said of his master Elijah, when he saw him taken up from the earth, doth Joash now speak of Elisha, near his dissolution; O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!
The words were good; the tears were pious; but where are the actions? O Joash, if the prophet were thy father, where was thy filial obedience? He cried down thy calves; thou upheldest them he counselled thee to good; thou didst evil in the sight of the Lord. If the prophet were the chariots and horsemen of Israel, why didst thou fight against his holy doctrine? If thou weepest for his loss, why didst thou not weep for those sins of thine, that procured it? Had thy hand answered thy tongue, Israel had been happy in Elisha; Elisha had been happy in Israel, and thee. Words are no good trial of profession: the worst men may speak well: actions only have the power to descry hypocrites.
Yet even a Joash, thus complying, shall not go away unblessed. This outward kindness shall receive an outward retribution: these few drops of warm water shed upon the face of a prophet, shall not lose their reward.
The Spirit of Prophecy forsakes not the death-bed of Elisha.
He calls for bow and arrows, and puts them into the hand of Joash; and, putting his hands upon the king's hand, he bids to shoot eastward, and, while the shaft flies and lights, he says, The arrow of the Lord's deliverance from Syria; for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou hast consumed them.
If the weak and withered hand of the prophet had not been upon the youthful and vigorous hand of the king, this bow had been drawn in vain. The strength was from the hand of the king; the blessing, from the hand of the prophet. He, whose real parable hath made the earth to be Syria; the arrow, revenge; the archer, Joash; hath obtained for his last boon from God to Israel, that this archer shall shoot this arrow of revenge, into the heart of Syria, and wound it to death. When then the hand of the king, and of the prophet, draws together, there cannot choose but success must follow.
How readily doth Elisha now make good the words of Joash! How truly is he the chariots and horsemen of Israel! Israel had not fought without him, much less had been victorious. If theirs be the endeavour, the success is his. Even the dying prophet puts life and speed into the forces of Israel; and, while he is digging his own grave, is raising trophies to God's people.
He had received kindness from the Syrians: amongst them was he harboured in the dearth, and from some of their nobles was presented with rich gifts; but their enmity to Israel drowns all his private respects: he cannot but profess hostility to the public enemies of the Church.
Neither can he content himself, with a single prediction of their ruin. He bids Joash, to take the arrows and smite upon the ground. He sets no number of those strokes; as supposing the frequence of those blows, which Joash might well, upon this former parabolical act, understand to be significant.
The slack hand of the king smites but thrice: so apt we are to be wanting to ourselves; so coldly do we execute the commands of God. The sick prophet is not more grieved, than angry, at this dull negligence. Doubtless, God had revealed to him, for his last gratification, that, upon his fervent prayers, so oft as Joash should voluntarily, after his general charge, smite the earth, so oft should Israel smite Syria.
Elisha's zeal doth not languish with his body. With a fatherly authority he chides him, who had styled him father; not fearing to spend some of his last wind, in a mild reproof; Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then thou hadst smitten Syria, till thou hadst consumed it; whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice. Not that the unchangeable decree of the Almighty meant to suspend itself, upon the uncertain issue of Joash's will; but he, that puts this word into the mouth of his prophet, puts this motion into the hand of the king, which did not more willingly stay, than necessarily obey the Pro
vidence whereby it was stirred. Even while we have our freest choice, we fall upon those actions and circumstances, whereby the just and holy will of our God is brought about. Our very neglects, our ignorances, shall fulfil his eternal councils.
Elisha dies, and is buried. His miracles do not cease with his life. Who can marvel, that his living prayers raised the son of the Shunamite, when his dead bones raise the carcass that touched them?
God will be free in his works. He, that must die himself, yet shall revive another. The same power might have continued life to him, that gave it by his bones.
Israel shall well see that he lives, by whose virtue Elisha was, both in life and death, miraculous. While the prophet was alive, the impetration might seem to be his, though the power were God's; now that he is dead, the bones can challenge nothing, but send the wandering Israelites to that Almighty agent, to whom it is all one to work by the quick or dead.
Were not the men of Israel more dead than the carcass thus buried, how could they choose but see in this revived corpse, an emblem of their own condition? How could they choose but think, "If we adhere to the God of Elisha, he shall raise our decayed estates, and restore our nation to the former glory?"
The Sadducees had as yet no being in Israel. With what face could that heresy ever after look into the world, when, before the birth of it, it was so palpably convinced, with an example of the resurrection?
Intermission of time and degrees of corruption add nothing to the impossibility of our rising. The body that is once cold in death hath no more aptitude to a reanimation, than that which is mouldered into dust. Only the divine power of the Maker must restore either, can restore both.
When we are dead, and buried in the grave of our sin, it is only the touch of God's prophets, applying unto us the death and resurrection of the Son of God, that can put new life into No less true, though spiritual, is the miracle of our raising up, from an estate of inward corruption, to a life of grace.
Yet all this prevails not with Israel. No bones of Elisha could raise them from their wicked idolatry; and, notwithstanding their gross sins, Joash their king prospers. Whether it were for the sake of Jehu, whose grandchild he was, or for the sake of Elisha, whose face he wept upon, his hand is notably successful; not only against the son of Hazael king of Syria, whom he beats out of the cities of Israel; but against Amaziah king of Judah, whom he took prisoner, beating down the very walls of Jerusalem, and returning laden with the sacred and rich spoil, both of the temple and court, to his Samaria.
Oh the depth of the divine justice and wisdom, in these outward administrations! The best cause, the best man, doth not